On leaving school, John joined the staff of the Natural History Museum in London, and worked as an Assistant information Officer. He left in 1969 to pursue a freelance career initially as a natural history writer and journalist, but soon moved into conservation.

With an extensive background in both journalism and conservation, John Burton has worked for many high profile international environmental organisations, including Friends of the Earth (as a consultant) and Fauna and Flora International (as Chief Executive). He set up the first TRAFFIC offices of the Species Survival Commission (SSC) for IUCN, has been involved with the Wildlife Trade Monitoring Unit and was founding chairman of the Bat Conservation Trust.


John has been a regular columnist with New Scientist, Assistant Editor of Animals magazine (now BBC Wildlife Magazine) and a natural history author specialising in field guides including guides to European mammals, North American mammals and European reptiles and amphibians. John has written six children’s books and edited several multi-author works including the National Trust Book of British WildlifeOwls of the World and the Atlas of Endangered Species. He has written several books on garden wildlife. He has written or edited more than 40 books..

As a consultant he has worked for a wide range of government, intergovernmental and commercial agencies, including USAID, the World Bank, CITES, DFID, HarperCollins, Wade Furniture Ltd, Wildscreen and English Nature. Recently he has specialised in training conservationists, with an emphasis on fundraising for land purchase and establishing small NGOs.

In the 1970s and 1980s, John was a regular broadcaster, and this included being a presenter for Countrysearch and with Johnny Morris in Animal Magic, as well as regular broadcasts on the BBC World Service. Working with Wildscreen Trust he also carried out the feasibility study which ultimately led to the creation of Arkive, in Bristol.



In 1989 John founded World Land Trust (WLT). WLT has saved half a million acres of threatened habitat since then, having raised over £50million for purchasing and protecting land in Africa, Asia and Central and South America.

In 2005, John was appointed a Visiting Fellow in the Department of Biology of the University of East Anglia (Norwich), in recognition of WLT’s work with its students. The Diploma course in Conservation and Project Administration was a collaboration between the University of East Anglia and WLT. In 2005, John was appointed to the Editorial Statutory Board of BBC Wildlife Magazine, and from 2007-2008 he was a Trustee of the then newly created BBC Wildlife Fund.

John received an Honorary Doctorate from University Campus Suffolk in October 2012 in honour of his work for international environmental organisations over three decades. He was named the 2013 Natural Heritage Champion by the Charity Staff Foundation.

In 2018 he received an award for his work conserving elephants, from the Government of India, and in 2019, the Linnean Society of London gave him the John Spedan Lewis Medal for innovation in conservation.

In October 2019 John stepped down as CEO of WLT, but has continued to work as an independent researcher and consultant, and develop several of the initiatives commenced while he was running the WLT, particularly his work with indigenous groups and anthropologists. He is currently a visiting Fellow in the Department of International Development at UEA, and a member of the Anthropology and Environment Committee of the Royal Anthropological Society